Leaving Your Mark and Keeping Your Stuff - aka Doing Hotdesking Right

It's a truth universally acknowledged, that nobody likes moving from offices or even cubicles to open workspaces. 

It's an even more universal truth that even fewer people like moving from their own, dedicated desk in a bullpen to hotdesking.*

But, lots of companies are trying both. There are compelling business reasons for it, too. Tony Hsieh of Zappos speaks convincingly of "collisions," of the amazing things that happen in any organization when folks who work in different parts of the company meet, chat, and ultimately collaborate. And hotdesking multiplies those opportunities, as you find yourself sharing spaces with more and more people you've never met.

As someone whose jobs have mostly involved working cross-functionally, I'm happiest when a company creates intentional spaces and times (during work hours!) for that to happen, rather than just hoping people will strike up convos in the kitchen or grab drinks after work. 

(And if you've ever paid rent, you must be able to sympathize with how an executive or facilities manager feels when they walk into an office and see 50% or more of the desks empty, because some people are working from home, some are travelling, some spend all day in meetings, etc. Space crunches are very real, and it can be hard to justify why someone who works from home 3 days a week or who travels for days at a time should have a private workspace. Ideally, yes, everyone would. But it's easy to see why companies feel like there's a better solution, especially in high-rent areas, or in companies that are growing fast or unpredictably.)

That doesn't mean it's an easy transition to hotdesking as a worker, though. I create piles of stuff all around me, at home and at work. Moving piles is a pain, but the thought of having no piles at all is a bit tricky to get my head around. 

But, fear not! There's a lot that could make this all easier. 

First, SmartBrief has a good piece about how to approach this change as an individual. It's a little low on solutions, but it does have that Cy Wakeman-esque approach of "this is your reality; you can choose how you react, or you can leave the job, but right now, the change is happening and you have to deal." 

There are also some ways that companies can make this work better for people, based on my experience in a growing company trying to come up with solutions to constant space crunches. 

First, most (all?) companies that move to hotdesking give staff lockers or cubbies to hold their stuff on a day to day basis. This is great, but it's not always implemented well. My advice to companies: Store the cubbies or lockers as vertically as possible. Some will be higher up and some will be lower but some will be very convenient at eye level. I worked somewhere with some great cubbies, but so many of the standard, popular cubby models are low to the ground. It was sort of a pain to get into them sometimes (especially if you're, say, wearing heels or a skirt to work!) and be able to see your stuff. 

Another tip: Have some cubbies or lockers that lock, and others that are open. It sounds so lazy, but honestly, having to deal with an extra key to carry around and a lock to hassle with can reduce utilization. Some people will need to lock up stuff, yes. But some just want to be able to throw some stuff somewhere, and grab it when they need it, hassle-free. Let people choose which solution they want. 

Similarly, if you have a separate shelf in your kitchen (which is clearly labelled) for employee mugs, separate from the regular stash of company-provided coffee mugs, you allow people to store their mug right by where they use it to get coffee or tea, while still keeping it in an area that stakes out "this is my mug, don't touch it." (Companies can obviously do this even if they're not hotdesking; in many places, all the mugs are kept together, which makes it unclear for new or visiting folks to know what mugs are OK to use and which ones belong to other people.) 

It's just a matter of removing barriers to use whenever possible, because those marginal changes will increase use and reduce the burden of all the changes of habit that come with hotdesking.

This is all aside from some of the obvious stuff. Like, if it's common for people to use second monitors, make sure there's a monitor and the appropriate dongles on each flex desk. Make the workspaces inviting and, dare I say, unique. 

That's another facet to the allure of the individual desk: customization. Most of us like to hang pics of our loved ones, or inspirational sneks, or whatever on and around our desks. There's no reason that that has to end with hotdesking! While some people won't want to leave random pics of their kids everywhere, companies implementing hotdesking should encourage folks to customize, just a little bit, the workspaces they're in. This has two benefits; first, people who are in the office most of the time can stake out their favorite desks by leaving some pics or trinkets on them (say, a picture from your last big hiking trip at one, a rubix cube at another...), and second, it helps folks learn more about each other, which is part of the point of all this, right? 

Obvs, you should not leave a precious family heirloom on a random desk at work. And, obvs, some people will have more comfort with this than others. That's OK! As SmartBrief mentions, choice is good. We like to have control over the choices we make at work. Some people decorate sparingly, and some people love to share more about themselves in the workplace. I may not know Dong From Accounting, but if I'm sitting at a desk where he pinned a snapshot of his last RC racing competition, it's a natural thing to ask him about when I bump into him grabbing a cup of coffee later on. Adding a bit of yourself to, say, your 5 most commonly-used workspaces allows you to feel a bit more at home in each, while also allowing you to see more facets of folks you might not interact with every day.

Of course, all of this depends on a culture at work where you don't mess with other people's stuff. If you don't have that culture, that's ... gonna be a problem for you in a lot of ways, but especially in this. Clearly labeling shared vs private spaces helps a lot, but it might not be a perfect solution in all cases. 

These are just ideas! The overall point of this is to get people thinking. Yes, I know you probably hate the idea of hotdesking. But, think of the 90's (for those of you capable of such a thing), when the hate du jour was cubicles. Everyone talked about how lifeless and soul-sucking it was to work in a cubicle, to be part of the cubicle farm. Now, a lot of people would kill for their own marginally closed-off space.

People don't like having benefits and perks taken away. It's far better to simply not give the perk in the first place than to try to give it for awhile, and then have to take it away. Hotdesking in particular is made worse not only because it's a less-than-ideal working situation, but also because it almost invariably involves taking away a private desk from folks who have long had them (how many companies introduce hotdesking while they still have a desk for every employee? And even if they did, people would just pick out "their" desks and use the same ones every day, as there'd be no competition for space). It's the removal of a benefit that you never even saw as a benefit, so much as a given. That's rough.

But people adapt. Sometimes, it helps to focus on how the situation could be improved and how you can deal with the new reality you're being given. Especially if it's a done deal and, aside from whining, your real choices are to deal with it or find another job. 


* I will admit to being one of the rare weirdos that actually really loves open workspaces. Hotdesking is less ideal than a dedicated desk, but there are a lot of situations where it really makes sense for a company to hotdesk rather than pay for all that office real estate, and ultimately I'm fine with that, too.